The anticlerical movement on the eve of 1905

The anticlerical movement on the eve of 1905

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"Here is the enemy" Poster for the magazine Lantern.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: February 2007

Historical context

France on the eve of the 1905 separation law

France in the first decade of the 20th centurye century is plagued by many divisions: the Dreyfus Affair made a lasting impression, and despite the presidential pardon enjoyed by the soldier in 1901, requests for rehabilitation have already been launched by the former lifer (they will end in 1906). This affair has resulted in the formation of two opposing blocs in France, which are more or less the same in opposing each other on the religious question.

The place of the Catholic Church in political affairs (defined since the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801) indeed provokes a violent quarrel between the clerical party and the majority political groups in the Chamber of Deputies, in particular the radical party. The religious divide in 1902 is therefore a reality in France during the Belle Epoque and each side does not hesitate to employ frontal attacks, violent against the opposing party, like this magazine cover.

Image Analysis

Denounce the influence of the Catholic Church

This 1902 poster is a cover of the magazine Lantern, violently anticlerical and republican newspaper, edited by Victor Flachon. For the author of this poster, the danger is clearly highlighted. The man of the Church aped in the guise of a bat covers the city of Paris with his menacing shadow and prevents the "city of light" from receiving the clarity of the solar star. The phrase “Here is the enemy” refers directly to Léon Gambetta's speech to the Chamber of Deputies who, repeating the words of his friend Peyrat in 1863, exclaimed from the rostrum on May 4, 1877: “clericalism, here we are. enemy! ".

This poster really insists on a district of Paris: the Butte Montmartre. The mill of course, but above all the Basilica of the Sacred Heart which is gripped by the clerk's hooked hands. This place of worship is a symbol for the anticlericals of the 1900s since this building was built to "expiate the crimes of the Communards" after the events of 1871 and the repression by the Versailles troops of the popular uprising (strong representation of workers among the Communards), patriotic (refusal of defeat against Prussia) and republican of the Commune. This construction, the realization of which was voted in 1873 by the National Assembly with a strong monarchist majority, proved the weight of the Catholic Church in the political life of the time since a Revolution had to be erased by the construction of a religious building.

Lantern therefore proposes to unmask the enemies of the Republic and reveal them to the French population. The poster, by the mark left in the Parisian sky and by the preeminence of dark colors, highlights the power and the omnipresence of the Church and therefore the need to fight against it with force. This dismal trace in the Parisian sky (evocation of the trace of a snake?) Can also be analyzed historically: it is lost in the sky and can symbolize the ancestral side of this influence of the Catholic Church on French society. .


A personal challenge?

As soon as it was released, this poster caused serious reactions. Right-wing and far-right groups, relayed by newspapers such as Free Speech, see in this man of the Church a direct implication of the Archbishop of Paris François Marie Benjamin Richard. It is obvious that Monsignor Richard, politically close to the monarchist Catholics, could be for the anticlericals a privileged target. It was he who had worked hard since his appointment to the Archdiocese of Paris (in July 1886) to build the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The posture of the prelate on the poster can moreover evoke the protection of the building or even its creation. Another element can corroborate this interpretation: the basilica being considered as a repentance for the faults of the Communards, Archbishop Richard certainly thought of honoring the memory of his predecessor, Monsignor Darboy, taken hostage and executed by the troops of the Commune. during "the bloody week".

No proof of this personal questioning exists. On the other hand, it is clear that Lantern wants in this poster to play a role directly related to the past struggles of anticlericalism, in particular the Enlightenment movement: Lantern (both the lamp design and the name in red) are the only elements of this poster that are shown in vivid colors. The image leaves no room for doubt, this review is intended to bring French society out of the obscurantism into which the Church has plunged France. The prelate hides the brightness of the sun but not that of Lantern (top left corner).

Finally, in the great anticlerical tradition of the early twentiethe century, there are no blasphemous signs in this poster that directly call into question the faith of believers. Anti-clericalism fights against the influence of the Church and, to rally as many people as possible to its cause, avoids shocking the faithful, on elements of faith (representation of Jesus, representation of the cross, the apostles ...).

  • anticlericalism
  • Catholicism
  • caricature
  • Clergy
  • Municipality of Paris
  • Separation law of 1905
  • radicalism
  • Third Republic
  • poster
  • Combes (Emile)
  • Belle Epoque
  • Basilica
  • Montmartre


Jacqueline LALOUETTEThe anticlerical republic, 19th-20th centuries Paris, Seuil, "L’Univers historique", 2002.

Jean-Marie MAYEURPolitical life under the Third Republic,Paris, Le Seuil, 1984.

Madeleine REBÉRIOUXThe Radical Republic (1898-1914),Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1975.

René RÉMONDAnticlericalism in France from 1815 to the present day,Paris, Fayard, 1976.

Michel WINOCKThe Belle Epoque, a golden age,Paris, Perrin, 2002.

To cite this article

Vincent DOUMERC, "The anticlerical movement on the eve of 1905"

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